Suarez: A Win For Liverpool Before the Season Begins?
by Conor Brennan
The whole Suarez sorry mess seems to be ending with a win for Liverpool, on paper.
Perhaps and maybe.
Those of us around the game for more than a few years know that as placid as things are now with Suarez and Liverpool having kissed and made up, under the surface, it’s probably not so. The big question is Suarez’ long term future at Liverpool.
By long term, we would take that to be opening day 2014-15, just after the Brazil WC. The gut feeling is that absent CL football for Liverpool, he’s gone, and perhaps even so with CL football.
There are a number of questions that this imbroglio has raised and some of them with profound implications for the future of Liverpool. Did Rodgers handle the situation well? Could Suarez have been better advised? Did Liverpool/Rodgers have a Plan B if Suarez exited? How was Henry’s FSG’s handling of events? And wither Suarez?
In recent years, especially around the Suarez-related incidents, Liverpool has not handled itself well. The hits just kept coming. Dalglish showing himself to be about as useful as a celling fan in an igloo, Ian Cotton getting the PR optics on racism completely wrong, Jen Chang going all Tony Soprano on a Twitter prankster/troll, T-Shirts and so forth.
Wherever Liverpool could put a foot wrong, they found a way to do it twice with 4 feet. So it was by times perplexing and by times calming to see them get this one so right.
As unpopular as Rodgers can be, as full of crap as he can be, Rodgers nailed this one.
He did everything expected of a manager of Liverpool. He has been criticized for not having the gravitas or the history to make the pronouncements and edicts he made, but in truth, it had to be Rodgers laying down the law to Suarez. No one else could have done it.
Yes, he has a style that grates and irritates, but even in this FaceBook, Venture Capitalist, LBO, Twitter era, the leader of the club is the manager. Ferguson, Wenger, Mourinho and so forth. Don’t for one moment think that any of them would have allowed their version of Ayre or Henry to take the lead here.
To maintain the dressing room, not to lose it, it was necessary that he was seen to be in control. There was one telling statement from Henry when he spoke about the situation; he insisted Suarez was not leaving and certainly not to Arsenal. When asked about integrating Suarez (back) into the team, he pointedly said, ‘team discipline is done by Rodgers, I do financials’. Sure enough there is overlap between the two roles, but Henry made clear his support of Rodgers and his understanding of Rodgers’ role. Once Suarez was going nowhere, it was Rodgers’ to win and lose.
Was there a ‘humiliation’ of Suarez needed with this apology stuff? Again, I think Rodgers played this one masterfully. Suarez transgressed and even his most ardent admirers were left with nowhere to go when asked if Suarez had placed himself above the club. Suarez had to be (seen to be) chastised and punished. We might all be adults, but when you act like a child, you will find yourself, from time to time, being treated as a child.
Rodgers sailed a thin but straight line. He didn’t fine him 2, 3, 4 weeks wages as that would have brought the PFA and appeals, etc. into the equation. Equally, he didn’t threaten to dump him into the reserves or youth team for the season as that would trigger a Bosman release clause where Suarez could exit at will for naught; also he could not damage Suarez so severely that he would be broken goods upon a return, or bollock him so harshly that an exit was the only solution.
So he had to find a way to be seen to punish, while allowing Suarez to retain a modicum of respect and allowing a return. Needle threaded, Mr. Rodgers.
So to Suarez. What of him? Where does he go? Firstly, it goes without saying that Suarez was woefully represented here. His advice seemed to be coming from whomsoever made those T-Shirts during the Evra affair. At all times, he found ways to plummet further and further from grace without sympathy. The reception of wonderful though undeserved support from the Kop (and traveling Kop out east and down under) was spat back as forcefully as any Diouf phlegm.
The notion that he had been promised a release if Liverpool didn’t make CL football was shown to be woefully thin and little more than fanciful imaginings. That’s not to say that he might not have been promised, but if he was he never made a convincing case other than saying so.
His encouragement of Arsenal was traitorous (if you can use such language in these days of multi-million pound contracts) and not well received on the terraces of Anfield or Ashburton Grove, though it was humorous to watch heretofore ‘Suarez-is-a-disgrace-to-the-game’ Arsenal fans pretzel twist themselves into insisting that, yes, he was really just misunderstood. Back to the ‘a-disgrace-to-the-game’ theme, now.
Loyalty (like traitor) is a word than really has no purchase in the modern game. Yes, we can hark back to the traditional values of the game, but it also is a reminder of both how different the game was then and how much it is a business now. But whatever scintilla of it persists in today’s game, Suarez was also found to be coming up short.
The patina that he had given enough to Liverpool last season without due personal reward – Let my people go free! – was very quickly burst and seen for what it was – that a contract is only as good as it is until the player says so. Yes, I know Liverpool or any club can sell any player at any time and that doesn’t smack of too much loyalty, but that’s the way the game in the figurative sense is played. No player is bigger than the club. Suarez tried hard to insist otherwise.
As the perceived and actual victor, Rodgers should, can and probably will be magnanimous. Will Suarez have the cojones to accept that he tried and lost? The answer here determines Suarez’ Liverpool future.
So whither Suarez?
Has he been rehabilitated onto Rodgers’ Christmas card list? Will he stay this season? After January? Next season? I suspect, as I’ve said before he will get his cast iron guarantee for an exit for next season in the absence of CL football.
The balance of the evidence, rising to a civil, not criminal conviction is that Suarez is going to nurture a grudge. If so, some sort of exit would seem to be likely. Then again, think Tevez. He would never again play for Man. City. And while his relationship and stature was much diminished when he returned, he did return. And is now gone. Rooney has already done it at United. Then again, Torres didn’t.
Liverpool, Rodgers, Henry played this exactly as they should have; there was no other way to play this and get the result they did. For that, many and much kudos are warranted. Rodgers will still annoy where he tries to persuade that “we won the passing” when Liverpool have lost 2-0 to Sunderland, but he is also somewhat underrated in his ability to take the spotlight off players and the team a la Mourinho and Ferguson.
This Suarez affair will have seen his stature grow both within and without in what has been his biggest off the field problem. I’m sure Henry et al. are feeling a certain justification. It would be nice if the on field problems and aspirations were as easily solved. Suarez and another of his situations has been solved.
For now anyway.
Nicely played, Anfield.